Training to Complement Independent Businesses
There have been some significant shifts in industry trends over the years and those always have an impact on those of us in the training business. For those of us who witnessed the globalization of big chains in the 1980s and 1990s, it may have been a surprise to see the recent consumer surge in popularity of non-branded, small, independent businesses. Local, boutique, and family-owned are all key words that drive marketing. Even large corporations are forming divisions that benefit from this trend by forming an umbrella for non-branded entities that appeal more to the buyer.
To see how this affects training, we first have to look at what consumers expect from these businesses. Individualized service, personal recognition, relationships, experiences, choices, and a move away from just being another number all have been cited as reasons these buyers do business with a company.
To meet these new expectations, leadership first needs to be in agreement on what the culture should be. If you are an individual owner, this may be easier. However, it is always wise to ensure your customers have the same desire as your vision, and there are many ways to research and determine that. If you already have a clear vision and defined culture, you may be tempted to jump straight into marketing this to your buyers. But if you do, you have missed an important step. So many times we see a gap between what the leaders perceive as their vision and how the employees interpret and respond to that. Unless your employees fully understand what the culture is and how that translates to their day-to-day roles, your customer will never get this either.
So how is this different than a corporate culture and training? There are some similarities in message, but if you take a look at the key drivers mentioned above—individualized service, personal recognition, relationships, experiences, choices, and a move away from being just another number—you will see much difference in the way employees are trained as opposed to a large company. The large company will thrive on consistency and standardization. It wants its employees in a store, restaurant, or hotel in Des Moines to service customers the same way they provide service in Providence. Training should create standards and emphasize ways to deliver that sameness.
On the other hand, the business (regardless of size) that identifies as independent has a challenge in training. How do you create standards to deliver exceptional service and experiences each time for the customer without losing the individualization that is expected? There are several rules to follow in setting the employees and the business up for success.
- Hire the culture. The best way you can get employees to live your message is to ensure they believe in it before they are brought on with the company. Many times, company trainers are involved with hiring decisions, as well. Create a profile of the perfect candidate. Determine what a typical employee of this company would exemplify and how he or she would be indentified through key interview questions or profiles.
- Provide creative training delivery. If you expect employees to be able to think for themselves on the job and determine what would create a great experience for the customer, then a standard training platform may not be the best delivery method. Online training is great for creating oneness but does not allow for idea exchange, group discussions, role-play, and observation. Training an employee to keep his or her individual nature within the parameters of the defined culture should always be facilitated by instructor-led sessions.
- Allow for individuality. Keeping their individual nature in those parameters is sometimes difficult to communicate to employees. Define what acceptable behavior is and what is not. Have them participate in discussions. Never try to script for these groups. The last thing your customer/buyer wants is to interact with an employee who has been processed with a robotic response. This quickly will diminish the credibility of the unique culture you have created.
- Focus on continuous development. As the needs of the customers are ever-changing, so should be the training of the staff that services them. Skill enhancement in business acumen and leadership can help even line-level employees make better decisions that will lead to greater customer experiences and higher profits for your company. Allowing these individuals to communicate customer feedback, challenges in delivering, and successes can be tremendous training tools to help further development of employees and overall culture.
When developing a training plan for an independent business, keep an open mind about methods, delivery, and content. This is your chance to be creative. Don’t throw the rulebook out the window, but feel free to tear out a few pages!
Amber Fox is a national director of Sales for Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, OH-based company offering a wide range of customized customer experience training for all industries. For more information on Signature’s training or other related programs, call 800.398.0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com. You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook. Fox can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.